Before Floyd Mayweather glamorized boxing with musicians in his corner, and long before athletes were tested regularly for steroid use, there was Ken Norton. The man who broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw passed away on Wednesday at the age of 70.
Norton made a name for himself in the 1970’s when he and Ali gave the boxing world three unforgettable fights. Their first showdown, in 1973, had Norton winning the NABF heavyweight title with a split-decision victory. He not only broke Ali’s jaw, but handed “The Greatest” only his second career loss. Their rematch six months later didn’t go as smoothly for Norton as he was on the losing end of a split-decision. In 1976, Norton lost again in what is considered one of the most disputed title fights in boxing history.
Victories over Jimmy Young and a previously undefeated Duane Bobick earned Norton the honor of being champ again in 1977. That same year, he was named “Fighter of the Year” by the Boxing Writers Association of America. These were steps in a path that would lead to his inclusion in the World Boxing Hall of Fame and International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Norton was one of the first athletes, and one of few boxers, to successfully jump into TV and film. He appeared in over 20 movies and made appearances on hit shows like “The A-Team” and “Knight Rider.” He was set to play “Apollo Creed” in Rocky until he had seconds thoughts and opted out. One can even say that he paved the way for cross over stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Success carried over to family matters as he was twice named “Father of the Year” by the Los Angeles Times. His son, Ken Norton Jr., played in the NFL for 13 years and paid tribute to his father each time he scored a touchdown by posing in a boxing stance and throwing combos at the goal post.
Despite his declining health, Norton continued to be an influence on boxers, friends and fans alike. Former opponent George Foreman was the first to pay tribute.
“They called us all handsome. Muhammad they called pretty. But the fairest of them all Ken Norton,” Foreman tweeted.
Former undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson also sent his condolences.
“Ken Norton was always nice to me even when I was just an amateur fighter. He always treated me like I was somebody. Remarkable man,” Tyson tweeted.
Norton was recognized for his boxing, acting, and parenting abilities. His life was nothing short of remarkable.